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Innovation isn’t the Goal; It’s the Strategy.

Updated: Jan 23, 2023

By Tony Vengrove

Strategy Focus

I’ve come to the conclusion that the “We Have to Innovate or Die” mantra has done more harm than good. The fatal flaw comes from the use of the word, “innovate.” It leaves many thinking innovation is the goal as opposed to an enabling strategy—that if some form of innovation is not achieved, the company is destined for extinction. Yes, we have to innovate, but again, innovation isn’t the goal, it’s an enabling strategy.

“How can we better serve our market?”

It’s time we treat it as such.  We’ll all be better served if we stop focusing on innovation as a means to an end, and get back to asking: How can we better serve our market? This question invites strategic and creative thinking. There are surely numerous ways to serve our market better; delivering innovation is just one of them.

During my corporate years, I didn’t come to work everyday asking myself, What can I innovate? I concentrated on how we could attract new customers to our business. How could we better serve the market? How can I capture an attractive market segment for our company? What changes in the market should we be worried about? Answers to questions like these led to an array of ideas ranging from new product concepts, pricing strategies, to marketing communication and more.

Perhaps I’m a different breed, but when I led innovation teams I didn’t feel obligated to only influence new product development; I viewed my role as having the authority to scrutinize all facets of the business—internally and externally. By taking a holistic approach to what was precipitating change in consumer behavior and market dynamics, we not only questioned every detail about the business, we forced people to explain why they were doings things the way they were. This curiosity and the conversation it generated often resulted in a “What if we…?” moment—that inspirational aha when someone connects the dots and shares an idea.

When innovation teams adopt a more holistic approach to their strategic thinking, they’ll not only develop ideas that are more aligned with market needs, they’ll be quicker to identify emergent strategic shifts that warrant further study and response.  And in this day and age, we all know the value of getting out in front of an important trend.

“The goal for innovation leaders is to ensure perpetual growth for the business.”

The most important goal for an innovation leader is to ensure perpetual growth for the business.  The goal isn’t to just churn out new products. Believe me, I know firsthand what it’s like to lead innovation. The pressure to deliver is often translated into numerical targets: bring X amount of new concepts to the table and launch X amount of new products into market. Those are important metrics to track, but when you’re simply trying to hit numbers, you’re probably going to waste precious resources launching subpar ideas. Just because something is novel and you have the capability to produce it doesn’t mean you should.

Treating innovation as a strategy helps avoid the temptation to think myopically about new product development. By asking, “How can we better serve our market?” instead of “What can we innovate?” ensures you’ll identify multiple relevant opportunities across the entire marketing mix that can serve to preserve and grow your business.  That’s what it all about!

Tony Vengrove

Miles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation. We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges. We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership. Email us or call us at 860-799-7505 to learn how we can help you you unlock the creative potential of your employees.

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